Skip to content
MSHA News Release No. 96-001
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: (703) 235-1452

January 26, 1996

LABOR SECRETARY NAMES COMMITTEE TO END BLACK LUNG AND SILICOSIS AMONG COAL MINERS

Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich has appointed a nine-member advisory committee to make recommendations on the elimination of black lung and silicosis among coal miners in the United States. The newly formed committee will conduct its first meeting in February.

"We are pleased to have such a knowledgeable, well-respected group of individuals to address the important issues concerning these debilitating occupational diseases," said Secretary Reich. "I am hopeful that the efforts of this committee will lead to the elimination of black lung and create a more healthful workplace for our nation's miners."

Since the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 set limits for respirable dust in coal mines, average dust concentrations in underground coal mines have declined from 8.0 milligrams per cubic meter to the current standard of 2.0 milligrams per cubic meter.

However, recent medical evidence indicates that miners continue to develop black lung and silicosis. Black lung is a commonly used term for lung disease resulting from excessive exposure to respirable coal mine dust, while silicosis results from exposure to quartz dust (respirable crystalline silica). In severe cases, both black lung and silicosis can be disabling or fatal.

"We will be asking the advisory committee to address the full range of respirable dust issues," said J. Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "That includes the available means to control the dust, improved dust monitoring, the exposure limits necessary to prevent the disease, the role of the miner in dust monitoring and the adequacy of the programs under which mine operators take samples to determine the dust levels to which miners are exposed."

Currently, black lung disability benefits cost the federal government more than $1.3 billion annually, with 75,000 former miners receiving benefits.

The majority of the nine-member advisory committee consists of individuals who have no economic interest in mining and are neutral. Two members of the committee represent organized labor and two others represent the mining industry.

The neutral members of the advisory committee are:

Dr. David Wegman, (advisory committee chairman) chairman of the department of work environment, and a professor in the college of engineering at the University of Massachusetts -- Lowell. A physician and epidemiologist, Dr. Wegman also chaired a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) working group on lung disease surveillance in miners and edited one of the leading textbooks in the field of occupational health.

John Dement, Ph.D., CIH, an associate professor in the division of occupational and environmental medicine at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC. Dement previously directed the office of disease prevention and exposure research for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. He has a joint doctoral degree in industrial hygiene/epidemiology and is editor of Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.

Dr. Kathleen Kriess, director of the occupational and environmental medicine division at the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine in Denver, CO. She is also an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Dr. Kriess has published in the area of occupational lung disease and is a NIOSH-certified "B" reader of pneumoconiosis x-ray films.

Raja Ramani, Ph.D., P.E., professor of mining engineering and head of the department of mineral engineering at Pennsylvania State University. Ramani is also director of the Generic Mineral Technology Center for Respirable Dust and has published more than 150 research papers dealing with mine planning and design, mine health and safety, and productivity.

Carol Rice, Ph.D., an associate professor of environmental health at the Kettering Laboratory, University of Cincinnati. Rice is past chairperson of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) and has published numerous research papers dealing with the measurement and control of workplace contaminants.

Mining industry representatives are:

Dr. John Gibbs, vice president of health management and corporate medical director of the Kerr-McGee Corp. in Oklahoma City, OK. He is an adjunct associate professor of occupational environmental medicine at the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Gibbs also serves on the occupational health committee of the National Mining Association.

Joseph Lamonica, vice-president for health, safety and training at the Bituminous Coal Operators' Association, Inc., in Washington, D.C. Lamonica previously served as director of health, safety and engineering for the Island Creek Coal Co. in Lexington, KY. Prior to that, he was administrator for coal mine safety and health at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor.

Labor representatives are:

Joseph Main, administrator of the department of occupational health and safety at the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in Washington, D.C., for 13 years. Main, a former surface and underground miner, directs a staff of union safety officials who inspect mines and investigate accidents at UMWA mines.

James Weeks, Sc.D., C.I.H., associate research professor in the division of occupational and environmental medicine at the George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. A certified industrial hygienist, Dr. Weeks has published papers in the scientific literature on coal mine dust exposures and on the effectiveness of mine safety regulations.

The advisory committee is scheduled to convene its first meeting Feb. 21-22, 1996, in Arlington, Va., at the Quality Hotel (Madison Room) located at 1200 North Courthouse Road. Meetings begin both days at 9 a.m. The committee will be expected to make its recommendations to Secretary Reich within 180 days.